When it comes to preventing Alzheimer’s disease, there’s some good news. Mounting evidence suggests that the changes you make now can have a significant positive effect on what happens to your brain later. In other words, we may be able to slow or even stop the development of this devastating illness, in part by making lifestyle choices that support long-term brain health. So if you’re interested in keeping your brain in tip-top shape for the long haul, here’s where to start:
1. Keep Moving
Exercise – it’s not just for keeping trim anymore! Not only does regular exercise boost mood,improve memory, and help slow the rate of cognitive decline, it also increases blood flow to the brain, which helps support brain health. Better yet, regular exercise cuts the risk of developing the disease by half, according to the Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation, and frankly, we like those odds. Tennis, anyone?
2. Feed Your Brain
OK, so perhaps a bowl of salad for breakfast isn’t your idea of an indulgent, good time, but neither is a deteriorating brain, so eating healthfully is, to say the least, a no-brainer. Be sure to fill up daily on those (preferably organic,) all-important:
- Healthy fats
- Leafy greens
- Colorful veggies
- Dark berries
- Quality protein
All will help protect your brain by tamping down the cell-damaging inflammation that’s considered a key contributor to the development of Alzheimer’s. Eating healthy will also support the health of your glial cells, which are believed to offer protection by sweeping toxins out of the brain.
Also, when you’re prepping all that good food, stick to non-reactive materials like ceramic, enamel-coated cast iron, glass or silicone, instead of aluminum or non-stick cookware. These have been tied to possible long-term health problems, including Alzheimer’s.
Other ways to eat for better brain health include:
- Minimizing your sugar intake – this is probably the most important step to take! Excess sugar attaches to proteins in the body, which increases the production of both free radicals and chemicals involved in inflammation, so limit your daily dose to no more than 15 grams (or roughly 3 teaspoons). In fact, many researchers are starting to call Alzheimer’s, type 3 diabetes because of the strong link between blood sugar and brain health. If you do need to treat yourself, grab the occasional small square of dark chocolate, which offers brain-boosting benefits.
- Cutting carbs considerably– anything that turns into sugar is a problem as elevated blood sugar triggers insulin spikes, which in turn lead to memory-robbing brain inflammation.
- Drinking tea – up to 4 cups a day of organic Oolong or Green helps slow aging of the brain, so drink up!
- Skipping the spirits – heavy drinking can cause permanent brain changes, so swap hard liquor for the occasional glass of red wine, not more than 3 times a week.
- Quitting cigarettes – as if you needed one more reason: smoking can increase Alzheimer’s risk by as 75% or more – so quit now to help save your brain.
3. Make a Good Diet Even Better With Supplements
Eating healthfully is absolutely essential to supporting brain health but I also believe that dietary supplements can help fill in nutritional gaps and strengthen the body’s ability to prevent the development of Alzheimer’s. Among my favorite brain-boosting, heavy-hitters:
- Omega 3 fish oil
- Coenzyme Q10
- Alpha Lipoic Acid
- L Carnitine
- Vitamins B 1,2,3 and 6
- Vitamin B 12
- Vitamin D
To establish the appropriate levels for your needs, work with your doctor to develop your supplementation plan. Be sure to factor in your prescriptions, as some commonly prescribed drugs, such as statins, can drain the body of key nutrients, making supplementation even more essential.
4. Play Lots of “Head” Games
Think of your brain as a muscle – the more you work it, the fitter and sharper it will be. In other words, train your brain! It’s all about keeping those neurons firing and stimulating the brain to develop new neural pathways by challenging it daily.
For example, get into the habit of shaking things up mentally by taking a different route to the market; writing with the opposite hand; learning a new language; working on crossword puzzles; playing an instrument or doing regular cognitive exercises. (Hey, has anyone seen my Rubik’s cube?) Researchers believe that regular and frequent brain “workouts” help reduce Alzheimer’s risk and help keep your brain agile and nimble. Interested in challenging yourself on-line? Do a search for free brain-training apps or take a look at Luminosity.com, which for a monthly fee delivers daily brain-training exercises to your computer and lets you track your progress.
5. Sweet Dreams are Made of These
Two simple, free, and very important gifts you can give your brain every day? Good, restorative sleep and a regular meditation practice. As much as your brain needs to be stimulated, it also needs down time to restore itself with sleep and recharge with stress-busting meditation. Chronic lack of sleep and relentless stress contributes to brain shrinkage in the area responsible for memory – so it’s imperative that you tend your brain garden.
And one more thought: stay connected with others, loved ones, friends and neighbors. Those who remain socially active and in touch with their community have lower incidences of Alzheimer’s — so get out there!
Photo of Brain Iceberg from Shutterstock.com